The Language of Resilience

The Language of Resilience

Resilience is about bouncing back from challenges and recovering from setbacks. Ideally, the obstacles in our life prepare us to be stronger, finer human beings.

Although we’d like to protect our children from what might hurt them, we don’t always have that option. The best we can do is prepare them to handle life even when it gets tough. We have an opportunity to do so as we raise them. At times that means setting aside our instinctual needs to protect them from momentary challenges, and to instead choose a strategy that prepares them for the future.

Actions and Words Work Together

There are many ingredients that go into building resilience in our young people. Our actions and presence reinforce our words.

  • When we prepare our children with the skill-sets to navigate the world, rather than hover over them or jump in to solve their problems for them, we build resilience.
  • When we model positive coping strategies in the face of our own challenges, our teens watch and learn healthy ways to manage their own stress. Our actions sometimes speak louder than our words.
  • When we stand beside our children unconditionally, they gain the deeply-rooted security that will allow them to withstand life’s curveballs. The most protective force in their lives is our unwavering, reliable presence.
Words also matter. With our words, we express what we really think about young people.

Words Express How We Think

Words also matter. With our words, we express what we really think about young people. Our words can express that we think our tweens and teens are vulnerable. Fragile. Incapable. Or, our words can state that we think they are safe. Strong. Capable.

  • When we say to young people, “Let me help you with that,” we communicate “I don’t think you can do it on your own.” On the other hand, when we encourage them to try new things, even if they may fail, we send the message that they are capable, wise, and able to grow from mistakes.
  • When we say, “It’s not that bad,” we risk belittling the situation. Rather, we want our children to know the problem is real, that they’ll be able to handle it, and that we are there to support them to do so.
  • When we jump in with proposed solutions, we deny our adolescents the space to come up with their own ideas. On the other hand, when we listen to them and let them bounce ideas off of us, we give them the opportunity to think through different strategies.
  • When we lecture our children, they cannot grasp the meaning of what we are trying to get across. Lectures are too abstract; they have too many ideas strung together for young people to follow. They may express our anger and condescension, making them hard to hear. They may imply we think teens can’t figure things out on their own. But when we engage them in conversations broken into digestible pieces, we guide them to arrive at their own conclusions and generate their own solutions. They gain confidence in their ability to handle challenges.
  • When our frustrations or worries drive our words, we express hopelessness or fear and may generate anxiety in our teens. This may prevent them from having the calm, settled minds that they need to best problem solve. Instead, when we remain calm, we model how to think most clearly, and can help guide them towards wise decisions.


What to Say (and Not to Say) to Support Teens Through Tough Times

The words we choose impact how effectively teens handle hardships and recover. Read these suggestions to build your “Language of Resilience.”


Validate Their Feelings, Don’t Minimize Them

Say This: This must feel awful. In time, it will hurt less. You’ll be stronger for it. Not That: It’s not that bad.


Empower Them, Don’t Overprotect

Say This: You’ll get through this. How can I support you? Not That: Don’t worry, I’ll protect you.


Help Them be Realistic, Don’t Blow Things Out of Proportion

Say This: Can this really hurt you? Will it feel so bad a week or month from now? Not That: This is horrible. It could ruin your life.


Point Out Strengths, Not Limitations

Say This: It’s great how much you care. Your challenge is caring without letting it hurt you too much. Not That: You are too sensitive.

What to Say (and Avoid) to Build Teen Resilience

Sometimes finding the right words is hard — especially when responding to emotions our teens are dealing with. You can build teens’ resilience by re-framing the way you respond to common situations. For more examples of what to say (and what to avoid), check out the slideshow.

What better way to prepare our teens to be successful adults than to support their developing resilience? Resilient people handle adversity well. They get the most out of life in good times and they thrive in the long-term.

About Ken Ginsburg

Ken Ginsburg, MD, MSEd, is Founding Director of CPTC and Professor of Pediatrics at Children's Hospital of Philadelphia. He travels the world speaking to parent, professional, and youth audiences and is the author of 5 award-winning parenting books including a multimedia professional toolkit on “Reaching Teens.” CPTC follows his strength-based philosophy and resilience-building model. For more on Dr. Ginsburg visit

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